Orthodox Leader Writes to Encourage Ecumenism

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Constantinople, the head of the Orthodox Churches in a manner similar to the Pope for the Catholic Church, wrote recently to encourage Orthodox dialogue with other Christian communions against a surging fanaticism that wishes to end attempts at Christian unity. His letter, read in Orthodox churches worldwide just a couple weeks ago, encouraged:

Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue. On the contrary, if Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the “catholic” and “ecumenical” Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a “ghetto” on the margins of history. This is why the great Fathers of the Church never feared dialogue with the spiritual culture of their age – indeed even with the pagan idolaters and philosophers of their world – thereby influencing and transforming the civilization of their time and offering us a truly ecumenical Church.

You can read the full letter here.

“Divinization”

What a good word. It means “to make divine”, or “to deify”. I’ve learned that it’s at the center of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox understandings of justification. The belief is that what Jesus accomplished on the cross opened the way for us to be made like Him, more specifically in our obedience to God. Oddly, this strikes me as a fuller salvation than the simple legal transaction that we Protestants take justification to be. (We had an debt we couldn’t pay. Jesus paid the price for us. We get off scot-free without any necessary life change.)

It’s often thought to be a type of salvation-through-works, which strikes me as a complete misunderstanding. The belief, actually, is that we are enabled to live rightly because of our contact with a sanctifying, renewing, life-giving God. Jesus’ death on the cross opened the way for us to come into the presence of God, and to be changed by Him—not to be removed from His presence every time we sin, as before the death of Christ. Thus, every good work is completely of grace; grace enables us to live like God. I find that to be a beautiful and awe-inspiring belief.

Now, I’m still wrestling with and evaluating this view of justification, but I must admit that it strikes me (initially, at least) as more beautiful, more far-reaching and more biblically coherent than the Protestant view. (That itself is kind of frightening.)